Kaavan spent years languishing along in Marghar zoo in Islamabad, Pakistan after his partner Saheli died in 2012. He was given as a gift from Sri Lanka to Pakistan in 1985.
Elephants are social animals and form strong bonds within and among family groups. The loss of Saheli took a toll on Kaavan’s mental health.
The 9,000lb elephant was tested for Covid-19 before his flight, like other passengers flying overseas, and was provided with 440lbs of in-flight snacks as he travelled in his large, personal metal crate.
After a seven-hour journey, Kaava received a warm welcome from officials, conservationists and Buddhist monks, who chanted prayers for his harmony and prosperity.
Neth Pheatktra, a spokesperson for the Environment Ministry, said in a statement that Kaavan will be released in a wildlife sanctuary in the Oddar Meanchey province, northern Cambodia, after he adjusts in a controlled setting.
Around 600 Asian elephants “live in peace and tranquility” in the sanctuary, added Mr Pheaktra.
Marghazar Zoo, where Kaava spent almost all of his life, fell on hard times and conditions became so poor that a Pakistani court ordered it be closed in August.
His plight captured worldwide attention, including from singer and actor Cher, who was closely involved in his rescue and was in Cambodia when he arrived.
Cher’s animal welfare group Free the Wild worked with Four Paws and Eric Margolis, American columnist and philanthropist, to relocate Kaavan and give him a new lease on life.
According to Four Paws, very few adult elephants have ever been relocated by plane and preparations to move Kaavan were arduous.
Vets and elephant experts working for theVienna-based animal rescue group spent three months in Islamabad, coaching the elephant daily on how to enter and exit his four-ton travel crate safely and stress-free.
Amir Khalil, a Four Paws vet who accompanied Kaavan on the flight, said the elephant was not stressed during the flight, ate his food and even got a little bit of sleep standing in his crate.
Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi and First Lady Samina Alvi bade Kaavan farewell on 24 November, a few days before his departure.
Mr Alvi said he was confident Kaavan would find happiness in Cambodia, where he would be surrounded by other elephants for company, and called for the implementation of the Pakistan Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1890) in the country.
Ahead of Kaavan’s journey, Cher met with Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, to thank him for letting her relocate the elephant to Cambodia.
A statement from Mr Khan’s office read: “Appreciating her efforts in retiring Kaavan to an elephant sanctuary, the prime minister thanked Cher for her campaign and role in this regard.”
Additional reporting by PA